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Articles of 2004

Ward’s Win Allows US Boxing To Salvage Minimal Pride

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Special to TheSweetScience.com

ATHENS — American Andre Ward's win over the immortal Magomed Aripgadjiev came in what turned out to be the 271st and final bout at the Peristeri Boxing Hall on Sunday, and it allowed the US boxing team to escape an ignominy rivaled only by our basketball team.

Ward's light-heavyweight gold medal is one more than Americans won in Sydney, and equals this country's output in each of the two Olympics previous to that, when David Reid's light-middleweight title represented our only gold in Atlanta, and the only winner in Barcelona was Oscar De La Hoya at lightweight.

The widespread assumption, then, is that the US is on a four-Olympic drought that goes back a dozen years, but the truth of the matter is that it goes back much further than that. Montreal in 1976, when Leon and Michael Spinks, Ray Leonard, Howard Davis, and Leo Randolph all won, was the last big-time haul of gold acquired honestly by US boxers. Think about it: We won three gold medals in Seoul in 1988, and the Cubans weren't there. We didn't go to Moscow in 1980. And the tainted Olympics in between — Los Angeles in 1984 — might as well have been an intrasquad scrimmage. No Russians, No Cubans, No Eastern Europeans to be seen.

The US won nine gold medals in 1984, but consider this for a moment: We sent nine boxers to Athens for the Olympics just concluded, and the eight who were eliminated all lost to boxers from countries which weren't even represented in Los Angeles twenty years ago.

“What your boys need to get back on the rails,” suggested a British journalist at Peristeri the other day, “is another boycott.”

The suggestion that the US had “long dominated” Olympic boxing is misplaced, then, for if one throws out the LA results, Montreal in 1976 stands as an aberration. We won just one gold medal in Munich (Ray Seales), two in Mexico City (George Foreman and Ronnie Harris), one in Tokyo (Joe Frazier), and even the 1960 US team in Rome, recalled as one of the greatest of all time, managed just three gold medals, from Cassius Clay, Sgt. Eddie Crook, and Wilbert “Skeeter” McClure.

There's yet another reason for our dwindling medal haul: The “Stan” factor. Bob Arum, who years ago used to regard the Olympics as the mother lode, claims that “all those Stans ruined Olympic boxing.” They might not have ruined it, but they've made it a damned sight harder for Americans to aspire to medals.

The breakup of the Soviet Union and the realignment of the world order might have been great for humanity, but it has enormously complicated Olympic boxing. It was one thing when you might have to beat a Russian to get out of the first round, but now if you do, you might still have to face an Uzbeki to get to the quarters, and if you beat him you might have to fight a guy from Belarus in order to get to the finals against a Kazak or, worse, a Cuban. The eight Americans who lost in Athens were all beaten by fighters from present or former Communist-bloc nations, and not one of them was a Russian.

Just before US lightweight Vinnie Escobedo fought one of these lads in the second round at Athens, a journalist familiar with European boxers warned me that “these Azerbajiani boxers can be tougher than old bloody boots.”

He was right, as it turned out, and besides the Azerbajiani, the Americans eliminated here lost to three Cubans, a Belarussian, an Uzbeki, a Bulgarian, and a Chinese.

The less said the better about Jason Estrada's embarrassing performance both during and after his quarterfinal bout against Michel Lopez Nunez. Estrada, who had defeated the Cuban rather handily in last year's Pan-Am games, had eaten his way up to 265 pounds by the time they met again in Athens, and this time put up only token resistance. He shrugged off the loss by announcing “I don’t care,” and infuriated reporters and teammates alike when he said “If I'm going to lose, I'm going to lose getting hit as little as possible.”

US coach Basheer Abdullah said he was upset by “both the loss, and the way the US athlete conducted himself after the loss.”

The portly superheavyweight from Providence “showed no class, no pride, and no respect,” said Abdullah. “I was very disappointed. (Estrada) embarrassed his country, his national governing body, and the USOC. I just hope I never have to go through something like that again.”

The consensus of opinion on Estrada: Robert Mittelman is welcome to him.

A few more observations from Athens

Olympic boxing in general seems to have degenerated into an almost unwatchable sport. It's become an exercise in floor gymnastics wearing boxing gloves, and the idea now seems to be to throw enough pitty-pat jabs to build a lead, and then run like hell for the rest of the night. The Cubans are very good at this, but no wonder nobody wants to watch it on television; it's painful enough to witness firsthand. The knockout has become a lost art, since any opponent hit hard enough to be remotely wobbled gets a standing-8. The result has become a new generation of amateur boxers who don't even TRY to throw punches with bad intentions.

British lightweight sensation Amir Khan, who won a silver medal at the tender age of 17, was an obvious exception. Young Khan stopped two of his first four opponents before running into a masterful matador, Mario Kindelan of Cuba, in Sunday's gold medal match. Welterweight Vanes Martirosyan appeared to be the only American who threw punches like he meant them, and he went out in the second round.

And then there were the judges.

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that my 16 year-old son and four of his Nintendo-playing friends could probably have done a better job of operating the computerized scoring devices than the Athens judges did. The judges comprising these five-man panels come from nations all over the world, including some which don't even have regularly-scheduled boxing events. They range from middle-aged to just plain old, and it's a safe bet that few of them have ever been at the controls of a PlayStation.

On balance, you'd have to say that the new system has discouraged the wholesale larceny that characterized Olympic judging in the past. The experience of the Athens Games would suggest that when the judges did screw up here, it wasn't because they were crooked, but because they were inept.

Articles of 2004

2004 Boxing Pound for Pound List

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The final boxing pound-for-pound list of the year for 2004.

1. Bernard Hopkins: The top guy from beginning to end, Hopkins took care of Oscar De La Hoya with a body shot in the biggest fight of 2004. Now, he'll wait for Jermain Taylor to progress a little further, or he'll go the rematch route with Felix Trinidad. Either way, Hopkins stands to earn a lot of money in 2005 and extend that all-time middleweight reign.

2. Floyd Mayweather: How long has it been since we've seen Mayweather in a meaningful fight? Certainly not in 2004, when he outpointed the difficult DeMarcus Corley. He's slated for a January outing against a no-name. Enough stalling, already, “Pretty Boy”. Fight someone we care about (preferably Kostya Tszyu), or you'll lose your #2 position sometime in 2005.

3. Felix Trinidad: “Tito” stormed back with a magnificent knockout of Ricardo Mayorga in 2004, and now hopes to capitalize on it with big money fights. He'd like nothing more than a rematch with his only conqueror, Hopkins, but he may also opt for old nemesis Oscar De La Hoya. Either way, Trinidad is sure to fight a big fight sometime in the coming year.

4. Kostya Tszyu: What a difference one fight makes. As recently as late October, the boxing world was wondering whether Tszyu was even serious about the sport anymore. We found out with a second round demolition of Sharmba Mitchell. And that made the junior welterweight division very attractive. Tszyu has several options now, including Arturo Gatti and Mayweather or even a hop up to welterweight to challenge Cory Spinks. Let's hope one of them happens in 2005.

5. Manny Pacquiao: Pacquiao fought twice in 2004, and what a fight the first one was. His thrilling war with Juan Manuel Marquez was the best brawl of the year, and there is a chance that the two rivals will go at it again in 2005. If not, Pacquiao has a list full of options: Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, etc. Pacquiao will fight one of them in the next year.

6. Marco Antonio Barrera: Another guy thought to be washed up when the year started, Barrera resurrected his career for the second time with a masterful victory over Paulie Ayala and a close decision over rival Erik Morales in another great fight. Barrera is obviously shooting for a return with Pacquiao, who decimated him in November 2003. Barrera says it was an off-night. Hopefully, we'll find out if that was the case.

7. Winky Wright: Winky entered the “superstar” realm in 2004 with a pair of decision victories over Shane Mosley. The first was very impressive, as Wright practically shut Mosley out. The second was closer, but proved once again that Winky was the superior fighter. He'd like a shot at Trinidad or Oscar De La Hoya, but neither will happen. He'd probably be best off shooting for a name like Fernando Vargas or Ricardo Mayorga.

8. Juan Manuel Marquez: After several years on the outside looking in, Marquez is finally in a position to make some money after his courageous performance against Pacquiao. He rose from three first-round knockdowns to wage the fight of his life in a fight that was ruled a draw. It would also be interesting to see Marquez against countrymen Barrera and Erik Morales.

9. Erik Morales: “El Terrible” fought another great fight against Barrera, but, again, it was in a losing cause. He has now lost two of three to his fierce rival, and probably wants nothing to do with him anymore. But, eventually, talk of Barrera-Morales 4 will come up again. In the meantime, Morales could shoot for Pacquiao or Marquez.

10. Glencoffe Johnson: The newest entry, Johnson pumped some life into boxing in 2004 with a pair of upsets of Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver. Now, he's set to make some really big money in rematches with either, or a shot at old conqueror Hopkins. Either way, Johnson is better than anyone imagined.

11. Jose Luis Castillo: Castillo made some comeback noise of his own in 2004, beating Juan Lazcano for his old vacant title and decisioning Joel Casamayor for another big win. He says he wants Kostya Tszyu next, and if that materializes, boxing fans will be in for a treat. If not, Castillo vs. Diego Corrales is a great fight.

12. Oscar De La Hoya: Hard to erase that picture of De La Hoya grimacing in agony courtesy of a Hopkins shot to the ribs, but the “Golden Boy” had no business fighting at 160 pounds. He should drop down to junior middle or even welterweight again if he has any hope of regaining his past form. But 2005 could be the final year for one of boxing's all-time great attractions.

On the brink: Antonio Tarver, Diego Corrales, James Toney

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Articles of 2004

Heavyweight Joe Mesi Bringing Lawsuit

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As reported by the Buffalo News, Joe Mesi is suing the New York State Athletic Commission and the MRI center that conducted tests on the heavyweight boxer after his bout with Vassiliy Jirov. Mesi reportedly suffered brain injuries in the Jirov bout, which has left his boxing status uncertain.

The lawsuit alleges Mesi's medical records were improperly released to the NYSAC. The records, the lawsuit goes on to allege, were then released to the media, prejudicing Mesi's right to have his status reviewed by the appropriate boxing authorities.

The lawsuit does not seek specific monetary damages, as the extent of damages will be affected by whether Mesi is able to resume his career as a leading heavyweight contender.

Mesi hopes to have his status reviewed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission within the coming month. The ruling of the NSAC promises to be key in whether Mesi will be able to resume his boxing career.

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Articles of 2004

The Best in Chicago Boxing Returns

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Dominic Pesoli's 8 Count Productions and Bob Arum's Top Rank Incorporated along with Miller Lite presents SOLO BOXEO DE MILLER, THE ARAGON RUMBLE, another installment of The Best in Chicago Boxing on Friday, January 14th, broadcast live internationally as part of Telefutura's Friday night professional boxing series.

The newly remodeled Aragon Ballroom is located at 1106 W. Lawrence Ave. near the corner of Lawrence and Broadway in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood and is easily accessible, just 4 blocks west of Lake Shore Drive and just 4 miles east of the Kennedy expressway. There are three large parking lots located within a 1/2 block of the Aragon Ballroom. Additionally, the Howard Street Blue Line stops just across the street. Doors will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

Headlining the action packed card is the American debut of super-bantamweight Ricardo “PIOLO” Castillo, 12-2 (6KO's) of Mexicali, Mexico as he squares off in a scheduled ten rounder against WBO Latino Champion, Edel Ruiz, 24-12-3 (13KO's) of Los Mochis, SI, Mexico. Castillo will be accompanied to the ring by his brother, World Lightweight Champion Jose Luis Castillo.

In the co-main event of the evening, one of Chicago's most popular fighters, middleweight “MACHO” Miguel Hernandez, 14-1 (9KO's), battles hard swinging local veteran “MARVELOUS” Shay Mobley, 7-4-1 (2KO's), of One In a Million Inc.in a scheduled eight rounder.

The huge undercard bouts include;

Carlos Molina vs TBA, six rounds, junior middleweights
Frankie Tafoya vs TBA, four rounds, featherweights
Ottu Holified vs. Allen Medina, four rounds, middleweights
Francisco Rodriguez vs. LaShaun Blair, four rounds, bantamweights
Rita Figueroa vs. Sarina Hayden, four rounds, junior welterweights

Said Dominic Pesoli, President of 8 Count Productions, “it was a terrific evening last month and our fans were thrilled to be at the Aragon to watch David, Speedy and Luciano. David Diaz's fight against Jaime Rangel was a fight people will talk about for a long time. Our commitment to our fans is to make every event of ours better than the last one. This main event is terrific, both guys are very tough Mexicans who won't take a step back.

The fans love Miguel and Mobley figures to be a very tough opponent. Him and David Estrada had a six round war last June at our show. And the undercard showcases a lot of new, younger talent that is coming out of Chicago right now. Tafoya and Holifield have both had very successful beginnings to their careers and Francisco Rodriguez comes with fantastic amateur credentials and David Diaz says he has all the talent to be a great pro.”

“We've got big plans for 2005 and this show should take up right where last months show left off. The huge crowd loved the action last time and I'm sure they'll say the same thing this time.”

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